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In 2016, Microsoft launched Planner which, as the name suggests, is a collaborative planning tool. It was released in an attempt to keep up with the likes of the Silicon Valley favourite, Trello. The question is, have they done so? I’ve tried to sum up my thoughts on the free versions in this article.

With MS Project being retired from the fast moving, more agile industries, MS thought something had to be done. Last year, Planner hit the virtual shelves of O365 users and has had a fairly successful adoption rate. If you are already an O365 subscriber, then it makes sense to give the tool a try. We did exactly that and found good things, and bad things.

I was a huge fan of Trello and until I took on this new role with a focus on O365 products, I considered a project without Trello a real challenge. Planner is now a tool of choice in our agency for managing projects, programmes and processes. I’ve focused on 3 main areas of consideration for the tools and explained my thoughts on them below…

TRELLO

FUNCTIONAL PLANNING; HOW WELL CAN THE TOOL ACTUALLY HELP PLAN THINGS.

For an agile delivery, the classic Kanban approach that Trello was designed for works fantastically. Yes, it functions very well as a basic to-do list, but adding in some more complex planning features allows you to genuinely manage projects through this one tool. You can use it through design, development and testing with no problems. Features which are worth highlighting in my opinion:

  • Due dates
  • Assign people
  • Attach files
  • Categorise cards
  • Card checklists
  • Copy / Move cards
  • Comment / Discuss cards
  • Print / Export the whole Trello board

Being a PM, we’re all too familiar with the client request for a Gantt chart. Unfortunately, this is where Trello doesn’t fire on all cylinders (but, should you really be using Trello if you want a Gantt chart?). Timing plans aren’t built in, but there is a great extension called Elegantt which allows you to share static time plans with clients!

Finally – dependencies don’t work too well in Trello. Again, as it’s based on a more flexible delivery methodology, perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. BUT, it’s always nice to see what you must do before you can tick that final thing off your list.

EXPERIENCE OF USE; HOW EASY IS THE TOOL TO USE.

A winner of all planning tools when it comes to the interface. Whether you want to assign someone to a ‘card’ using the keyboard shortcuts available, or change a deadline date whilst on the move using the mobile app, it’s a simple and intuitive experience throughout.

COLLABORATION; HOW WELL DOES THE TOOL WORK WITH A TEAM OF USERS?

In a nutshell, it’s so easy to collaborate and add users, both internal to your business and external to your business. Because there are no access restrictions – this is a winner for me. Working with clients on project management only makes things easier for all. If it’s managed correctly, an open access project planning board is a win win for all involved – especially if you’re aiming for efficient delivery.

MY 5 STAR RATING

4.5 Stars

PLANNER

FUNCTIONAL PLANNING; HOW WELL CAN THE TOOL ACTUALLY HELP PLAN THINGS.

It’s no MS Project, but do we really need ALL those features from MS Project to run lean efficient digital deliveries? I’d challenge anyone who says yes to that question. Microsoft Planner is a step in the right direction and its functional ability to act as a planning tool is competitive. It ticks the boxes with the major features and has the same setup as Trello with regards to a Kanban layout, which again is flexible with letting you setup how your business desires.
It handles simple planning very well and has the obvious benefits (or perhaps negatives) of being very integrated with MS O365 and Teams too. This can however, make collaboration with external users a bit of a hassle, but they are adding this as a new feature soon too. Check out the Roadmap for Planner which details the upcoming releases.

Being based around tasks, you have all the classic features which have come to be expected of a planning tool in this space. In fact, it’s very similar to Trello in terms of functional features:

  • Start and End dates
  • Progress / status of task
  • Assigning internal team members
  • Attaching files
  • Labelling / categorising tasks
  • Task checklists
  • Duplicate tasks
  • Comment on tasks

If you like a bit more detail, or some different views, then MS Planner definitely wins over Trello here. Planner offers two other views on top of the ‘Board’ view. The two views are a ‘Schedule’ view and a ‘Charts’ view. To be completely honest, the ‘Charts’ view is only really interesting if you’re looking for stats on use of the board itself. It’s a dashboard view which may be useful for management of teams and their workload than it is management of the actual project. The ‘Schedule’ view is a useful view to get a flash of the timings and the deadlines. In fact, if you’re a visual and timing led person, this one will probably very much appeal to you and goes some way to allowing for those timing plans to be shared with clients and project teams…

EXPERIENCE OF USE; HOW EASY IS THE TOOL TO USE.

Planner definitely falls second to Trello in this area. It’s not a million miles off, and a few very small tweaks could make Planner a much easier tool to use. For example, introducing keyboard shortcuts and tidying up the mobile experience would be quick, simple wins saving time and making the tool more accessible on the move. However, in the past 12 months, it’s come a long way, so I’m hopeful this will continue and the UX/UI team at MS will get a pat on the back.

COLLABORATION; HOW WELL DOES THE TOOL WORK WITH A TEAM OF USERS?

Being an O365 tool, it’s obviously very well suited to collaborating with internal colleagues. However, with it not yet being a feature to share with externally, it’s not quite up to speed with Trello to enable that partnership with clients to both work from one system. It is on the roadmap for this to happen – so watch this space and it may be a game changer.

MY 5 STAR RATING

3.5 Stars

IN SUMMARY

I’m of the opinion that MS have a little way to keep up with Trello for the management of projects. It’s a bold step into a very competitive space by MS, and given time with the roadmap for new releases, they don’t have to do a huge amount to make it a very powerful tool for all those users on O365 (which is 120 million of us!).